Inside Pitch Magazine, Summer 2014

Last Inning: What's the Deal with Scholarships?

By Scott Patrick

FireworksCollege baseball has seen unprecedented growth over the past several years. Facilities, attendance and general interest in college baseball used to just exist in pockets in the southern United States. Now, first-class facilities and growing fan bases are visible all over the country.

The parity that now exists in the game gives many more schools a chance to make it Omaha, thanks in large part to the changes in the bats and the resources that so many universities have now committed to the programs. For all intents and purposes, it's a fair playing field.

Except for scholarships.

With all of the great things going on in college baseball today, allocating (a maximum) of 11.7 scholarships to (a maximum) 27 players seems a little bit off (keep in mind most NCAA Div. I schools have 35-man rosters).

An article that Field Level Co-Founder and CEO Kai Sato wrote, "Be Bullish on College Baseball," noted how college baseball's market is growing steadily in participation, contributing human capital to the second highest grossing professional sports entity in America: Major League Baseball, which generated over $8 billion (a record) in 2013. Omaha's College World Series has generated more than $6 million each year since it moved to TD Ameritrade Park in 2011.

ESPN has also made a large commitment to the sport, televising more than 200 exclusive regular-season and conference championship games across ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN3 and ESPNEWS this past spring. This included Thursday Night SEC Baseball, ACC Monday and at least one Game Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday Over 14 consecutive weeks. ESPN also hosted the NCAA Division I College Baseball Championship selection show, and made every postseason game is available via WatchESPN and the Bases Loaded Channel.

Baylor head coach Steve Smith echoed this thought with his comments on student-athlete compensation at this year's Big 12 Tournament in Oklahoma City, and he made some great points while doing so:

"The College World Series draws upwards of 25,000 people to watch student-athletes who, on average, are on a scholarship of 43 percent. The entire NCAA Tournament now generates about nine million dollars in profit for the NCAA. There's something really, really wrong with that especially in a time where we're talking about giving (football and basketball) guys on full scholarships another four or five thousand dollars. And I know that I'm not the only coach who agrees with that. I really wish – and I speak on behalf of all our coaches in this room – that somebody out there in the media would get ahold of that one and run with it, because it's wrong."

Trent Shadid (The Oklahoman, ran Smith's quotes online later that afternoon. "The response I got was crazy. My [Twitter] account was blowing up with retweets and favorites. I don't think many people had heard college baseball's perspective when it comes to scholarships and student-athlete compensation, which has been a popular topic with football and basketball recently. I believe [Coach Smith] brings up a valid point."

"I thought Coach Smith's comments were refreshing," said Shadid. "He was willing to be incredibly honest and genuine on a subject he clearly feels passionate about, and that's become increasingly rare among coaches today. For him to do it in front of several media members and all the other Big 12 coaches says a lot about how much it means to him."

Clearly there are several hoops to jump through before more scholarships can be committed to college baseball, but if it's popularity continues to increase across the board, it's just a matter of time before something has to be done.

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